“Hats off to Smithy (Steve Smith), he did all the work. I’m not surprised… but it was a massive moment to finish off the day strongly."
Nathan Lyon gave credit where it was due and lavished praise on the Australian skipper for the stunning catch at leg-slip to get rid of Cheteshwar Pujara towards the fag end on Day 2. It was a blinder, the kind of catches you can watch over and over again. And still not get bored of them. Pujara’s attempt to flick it meant Smith went towards his left but seeing the fine deflection he made the shift to the right in a micro second. The body didn’t really fall back towards the ball’s direction in time but he ensured to get the hand in the right place and it stuck, it just did.
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Catches like these stick and are considered more luck than skill. For Smith, however, it was something he has been practicing in the fielding sessions with the Australian team. I was lucky enough to witness one such session in Delhi where the visitors were practicing before leaving for Indore. On the last day before the team’s scheduled departure for the third Test, the session was in the last leg and the tail-enders were enjoying the hit when the batters underwent unique catching drills.
It was sunny but still not very hot in Delhi then and the very light breeze made it a pleasant afternoon to train and play cricket. Australia were practicing in the nets near the Virender Sehwag Gate as the main ground was being used by the Lucknow Super Giants for their training camp and intra-squad fixtures ahead of the IPL. The mood in the Australian camp was light and captain Steve was busy setting up a little playground of his own.
A light roller, a hard metal board – generally used for partitioning purposes at the venue – and a protection net.
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That’s all Smith needed to work on his reflexes and slip-catching. He would ask someone to throw the balls at a particular angle on the board and the bounce off the board and deflection from the roller would make it a fun but very challenging drill. Not every time he would get an ideal catching opportunity but when he did, it was close to the Pujara epic he staged at the Holkar Stadium on Thursday. Since there was no guarantee of getting a catch every second ball, it was a drill which tested your patience as the one which came your way were not the regular dollies.
“This is no disrespect to anyone else in that changing room, but I don’t think anyone else is catching it. That’s just me bowling from one end and looking up and seeing Steve Smith at slip or leg slip and having that confidence as a bowler. Yes, he has dropped a couple here and there, but I wouldn’t trade him for anyone,” said Lyon on Smith’s catch.
“It shows the quality of cricketer he is that we see at training the different methods he is coming up with to try and get better and try and improve. This is someone who has played 95 Test matches,” added Lyon and also mentioned about the “different methods” which the stand-in skipper has been using to perfect the art of close-in catches.
Former Australia cricketer Mark Waugh, a brilliant slip fielder during his playing days, had criticised Smith’s slip-fielding during the Delhi Test.
“He’s just snatched at thin air to be honest. I think he should have caught that, a fielder of his ability should have caught that. He’d be disappointed with that. I am going to have a word with him in the morning,” Waugh had said.
Not sure if advice came Smith’s way from Waugh but the stand-in skipper has silenced the voices for a bit as the hard yards he put in Delhi reaped rewards. Not only did he take the catch of the series so far but also allowed Australia to completely own the second day’s play in Indore. Pujara was the prized wicket in context of the game and Smith single-handedly, quite literally, sealed the deal.
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